The Silent City of the Dead by the Eastern Branch
Distinguished People Both of the Army and Navy and of the Civil Service
Whose Remains are Buried There - A Sketch of the Origin and Growth of the Cemetery
A stranger hearing the name of the Congressional cemetery would naturally think that the place was owned by the government, and it cannot be doubted that a large number of the residents of the District entertain a similar belief. Such is not the fact. This beautiful city of the dead is owned by the parish of Christ Church on the Navy Yard, and is controlled and managed by a committee of the vestry. In fact, the cemetery has no legal right to the name by which it is generally known. It was at first managed by a company of gentlemen and was called Tingey's cemetery from the fact that the first interment was that of the body of Commodore Tingey in 1807. It held that title until these gentlemen presented the cemetery to Christ Church on March 30th, 1812, when the following resolution was passed by the vestry:
"Resolved, That the burial ground presented to the vestry this day be designated by the name and title of the
WASHINGTON PARISH BURIAL GROUND
Even before this date, however, it had acquired the title of Congressional cemetery from the fact that Senators and Representatives who died while in the performance of their duties in this city were buried at this new graveyard. The first who was buried there was Hon. Uriah Tracy, Senator from Connecticut, who died in April 1807. He had been a major general in the revolutionary army, and when he died Congress appropriated money to pace a cenotaph over his remains. This precedent, once established, was continued, and from that time until 1861 a cenotaph was placed in this burial ground in memory of every Senator or Representative who died whether he was buried there or not. These were first made of white sandstone, as that was the only material easily obtainable in this locality, and, in fact, the central portion of the Capitol is of this white sandstone.
The next distinguished burial was that of Edward Darby, a representative from New Jersey, who died July 28th, 1808. Near by his resting place is the lot of the Lear family, who were friends of Washington. Then there is the tomb of Eldridge Gerry, Vice President of the United States, who died on his way to the Capitol to preside over the Senate on November 23, 1814, aged 70 years, "thus fulfilling" according to the inscription, "his own memorable injunction: 'It is the duty of every citizen, though he may have but one day to live, to devote that day to the good of his country.'" The monument was erected by Congress.
Not far off is the grave of Maj. Gen. George Clinton, who was also a vice president, surmounted by a monument, which contains a bas relief portrait of the deceased, which is said to be an excellent likeness.
One of the most interesting monuments is that erected to the celebrated Indian Push-ma-ta-ha, who was a chief of the Choctaw tribe. The inscription says the deceased was a "great friend of Jackson," and that the monument was "erected by his brother chiefs, who were associated with him in a delegation from their nation in 1824 to the general government of the United States." The dead chiefs virtues are described as follows: "Push-ma-ta-ha was a warrior of great distinction. He was wise in council, eloquent in an extraordinary degree, and on al occasions and under all circumstances the white man's friend." He died in Washington on the 24th of December, 1824, of the croup, in the sixtieth year of his age. Among his last words were the following: "When I am gone let the big guns be fired over me."
There are quite a number of Indians buried in this cemetery, but none are marked in so pretentious a style as the celebrated Choctaw chief, Samuel A. Otis, who died April 27, 1814, was a representative of the celebrated Otis family of Massachusetts, of revolutionary fame. Near him is the family lot of the Mays, who were one of the oldest families in the District, and whose male members were known especially for
THEIR FIGHTING QUALITIES
There is a handsome monument which was "erected by order of Frederick William, King of Prussia, to the memory of the resident minister to the United States, Chevalier Frederick Greuhm," who died December 1st, 1825. The grave of Cilley, who was killed in a duel by Graves of Kentucky, on the historical dueling ground at Bladensburg is not far from where the German minister lies.
John Forsyth, who was Secretary of State, Hon. Buckner Thurston, Associate Justice of the District Circuit Court; Judge Beale Bordley Crawford, Philip Pendleton Barbor, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; Richard Coxe, an eminent lawyer at the District bar, and the father of the present Judge Coxe; William Elliott, an old surveyor of the District; Oranes Bassmagian, a member of the Turkish Legation; Samuel Nicholas Smallwood, one of the early mayors of this city, are not far from each other in the older portion of the cemetery.
One of the most imposing monuments in the whole cemetery is that erected over the family vault of William Wirt. It is of Italian marble, and carved in exquisite and artistic taste. The inscription states that Mr. Wirt was Attorney General from 1817 to 1829, and it was during his term of office that he conducted the prosecution against Aaron Burr for high treason. His eloquent address on that occasion, in which he portrayed the sinuous and sinister methods by which Burr gained complete ascendancy over the simple-minded Blenerhassett, ranks among the classics of forensic literature.
Among the Congressional Cenotaphs
Are those to Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, and it may not be generally known that both these distinguished statesmen owned lots in the cemetery and have children buried there. There are one hundred and seventy-five of these cenotaphs. The last congressional burial here was Senator Lemuel Bowden of West Virginia. Congress, however, has reserved for its use a space on both sides of Prout avenue twelve burial sites deep, five ranges on Congress and three on Henderson avenue.
Old Family Lots
Nowhere can the old families of the District be traced more intelligently than in this cemetery. Here rest the remains of Peter Lenox, the father of Mayor Lenox; John Stettinius; of Moses Poor, who was the father of Admiral Poor. A story is told that when Mr. Poor kept a store on the avenue some boys one night sawed his sign in the center and then changed the position of the two pieces, so that it read "Poor Moses." Then there are the family lots of the Handys, the Becks, Dr. Lowery, T.B. Cross, the Coyles, Robert Campbell, Henry Lee, sr., Edmund D. Earle, the Barrys, C.B. Church, James Galt, the father of the rpesent jewelers, Peter Brady, John A. Smith, Meehan, William Young, Rev. John C. Smith, Evan Evans, Peter G. Washington, John Sargent, Andrew J. Duvall, the Pendletons, the Griffiths, David A. Hall, Walter Jones, Wm. Benning, for whom Benning's bridge was named, Geoerge. Parker, J.C. Grammer, Chas. L. and R. Coltman, Jas.. Greenleaf, Neuhan, W.E. Gardner, Thos. B. Cross, jr., M.H. Stevens, Col. J.G. Berret, F.J.. Heiberger, Jos. Hall, Geo. C. Henning, Jacob Giddeon, the Prouts, Col. Bowie, Dr. W.E. Poulton, the Clarkes, John Maury, John T. Towers, ex-mayor of Washington; Joshua Gibson, the McKims, Marks, Bishop Johns, Samuel Cross, Zurhorst, Wm. T. Jones, Imbie, James Adams, James Y. Davis, Anthony Buchly, John Hitz, John Bayne, L.A. Wood, Whitford Scaggs, Samuel Little the Duncansons, the Zantzingers, W.H. Campbell, the Rives, the Bealls, Stansburys, Rileys, Casparis, Todds, Gilliss, Z.D. Gillman, Jacob S. Acker, Philip Otterback, Jas. S. Varnum, Francis Mohun, Edward Ingle, Dr. Wm. Gunton, Wm. Bickford Kibbey, and many others. All these lots are occupied by some deceased members of the family, and to their memory headstones or monuments have been placed in many instances of great value and beauty.
Among the Graves of Foreigners
Which may be found is that of Henry Stephen Fox, who was for several years British envoy to the United States. He was a son of Gen. Henry Edward Fox and a nephew of Chas. James Fox, and he died in Washington, October 18, 1848. Then there is Clara Scarselli Brumidi, the first wife of Brumidi, the eminent fresco artist, whose work upon the Capitol will be a lasting monument to him and Frederico Casali and Pietro Shio, who were his assistants. The late B.B. French who was for many years commissioner of public buildings and who was so eminent in Masonic circles, has his grave marked by a handsome monument of highly polished Scottish granite. A marble monument handsomely carved with the emblems and insignia of the order covers the remains of Fred. Stuart, who was the Grand Sire of the Odd Fellows. A handsome monument has been erected over the grave of Joseph Gales, who was one of the editors of the National Intelligencer, by representatives of the press in Philadelphia, New York and Boston, but the resting place of his associate, W.W. Seaton is unmarked.
The Hall lot is always a point of attraction. It is surrounded with a coping of granite rising high at the back, where is carved the word "Welcome." In the center is a kneeling seraph, exquisitely carved. The lot contains but two occupants now, Elizabeth and Katharine A. Hall.
There are a large number of vaults, some arranged so that the catacombs may be seen from the front, and others where the interior is entirely concealed from view. Among the notable of these vaults are those of the Caustens, in which the remains of the widow of President Madison were first placed, but were afterwards removed to Virginia; John Purdy, Wainwright, Ulrich, William Dement, George Page, William R. Maddox, Middleton, William Lambell, William G.W. White, and Adam Rose, which is the finest in the whole cemetery, containing sixteen catacombs, four of which only are occupied.
A fine monument stands over the grave of Dr. John Hall, erected by the Washington City orphan asylum, of which institution he was so great a benefactor during his life.
The Body of Sergeant Cross,
Which was brought back from the frozen north, now rests in the Congressional cemetery, and a monument of black granite has been erected over the grave, which bears the following inscription: "Wm. Cross, born January 20, 1845; perished while exploring the arctic region under Lieut. Greely, January 18, 1884. At rest."
Victims of the Arsenal Explosion
One of the most interesting spots is the grave which contains the bodies of those who were killed at the arsenal twenty-one years ago. That was during the war, when the arsenal was operated to its fullest capacity. The explosion killed twenty-one people, and there was great grief occasioned in the city at the accident. It was considered a public calamity, and the handsome marble monument which marks their graves was furnished by public contributions., The monument is about thirty feet in height, and is surmounted by a statue of grief exquisitely carved. The base is of granite. On two sides are the names of the unfortunate victims, and on the other two are the legends, "Died by an explosion at the U.S. Arsenal, Washington, D.C., July 17 1864. Erected by public contributions by the citizens of Washington, D.C. June 17, 1867."
Two ranges in the western part of the cemetery are occupied by the bodies which were removed from St. John's cemetery. There are also buried here a number of confederate prisoners who died during their confinement in the Old Capitol prison, and whose graves are unmarked. Then there are many confederate soldiers who are distinguished by wooden headboards bearing their names and regiment. These are carefully attended to, and in fact, there is the best evidence of the care bestowed upon every part of the cemetery by the trim and excellent condition of the lots. The grass is all neatly cut, but, of course, the floral ornamentation is the work of the individual lot owners. Many of the lots present a most charming appearance, with flowers of the brightest hues growing luxuriantly.
Killed On The Princeton
A grave that attracts much attention is one that is marked by a handsome marble monument, covering the remains of two distinguished men who were united during life in bonds of the closest friendship and who were both, by a singular fatality, killed at the same time. These two men were Abel Parker Upshur, who had held the positions of Secretary of the Navy, and then Secretary of State, and Commodore Beverly Kennon, of the United States navy. Both were killed by the explosion of the celebrated gun "Peacemaker" on board the Unties States frigate Princeton.
Over the grave of Lieut. Wm. McArthur is a neat monument , the inscription showing that it was erected by his brother officers of the United States Coast survey.
In the center of the Bache family lot lie the bodies of Alexander Dallas Bache, who was superintendent of the U.S. Coast Survey, and in one corner is a monument covering the remains of his son, George Mifflin Bache, who was a commander in the U.S. Coast Survey, four petty officers and seven seamen, who all perished in a gale off Cape Hatteras, September 8, 1846.
A beautifully veined marble monument, with a granite base, marks the resting place of the late Gen. Rawlins, the friend and confidant of the distinguished soldier whose own sands of life are nearly exhausted. The simple inscription is as follows: "Major General John A. Rawlins, born February 13th, 1834, died September 6th, 1869, Chief of staff to General U.S. Grant from 1861 to 1869. At the time of his death Secretary of War."
Distinguished Army and Navy Officers
Probably no cemetery, not even one of the national cemeteries which are under the control of the general government, contains the remains of so many officers of the army ad navy as the Congressional.
Source: The Evening Star,
Publication date: July 18, 1885